“Hard times create strong men. Strong men create good times. Good times create weak men. And, weak men create hard times.” – G. Michael Hopf.
The profundity of the quote’s simplicity is remarkable, considering how accurately it describes our historical cycle.
Like the rest of the world, our greatest generations served during the second world war.
Aside from participating in the war, that generation witnessed the seismic changes of the Siamese Revolution, three different reigns (Rama 7 to Rama 9) and the dawn of the Cold War.
Not only did the elites of the period survive, they thrived despite the upheaval.
After the war was over, many of the elites and their children found ready gaps in the Thai economy that could be exploited and monopolized. This was enhanced in the post-war period with the increase in foreign investment, including American capital (and political influence). It led to the growth of businesses and business dynasties That we still see today.
A quick look at Forbes’ Thailand’s 50 Richest List and family-owned businesses in SET50 will reveal that the aforementioned family dynasties have their origins or started to dominate during this time.
In fact, it is extremely rare to find family businesses founded after this period to break into the top echelon of Thai businesses.
Ultimately, they are the founders of modern Thai capitalism and Thai-style democracy with all its flaws and weaknesses.
Looking at these various family businesses, their management style is typically authoritarian, where the patriarch has the ultimate control. Their sons and daughters did not pave the way but, rather, just helped to expand the family business.
The baby boomers inherited businesses where their main responsibility was to follow the patriarch’s order and nothing more. Not to innovate, not to question but blindly obey.
Because these businesses are the most successful businesses in the country, there wasn’t much challenge and the baby boomers could just ride the coattails of the family’s success.
Despite currently dominating much of Thailand’s businesses and politics, the boomers, today, are facing an unfathomable challenge in the form of Gen-Z, whose values could not be more opposite to theirs.
Having never questioned the authority of the patriarch (or the “poo-yai”), Boomers are struggling to comprehend Gen-Z’s relentless questioning of authority and validity of archaic customs. And instead of embracing change that comes with the time, those in power choose the retreat to their comfort zone and rely on their native instinct to preserve and conserve the society in the only manner they see fit: submitting and loudly proclaiming allegiance to the institutions they challenge.
The uncomfortable truth is that the current generation in power is too weak or too afraid to change the country and evolve it to the age of digitization and disruption. They are too afraid to question the status quo and the archaic customs. They are afraid of the new generation and are responsible for holding Thailand back.